To Quote or Not to Quote?

“On Point” had a fantastic little discussion about quotations yesterday, getting into issues like what makes a statement memorable, how we use quotes, whether accuracy or correct attribution really matters.

So it got me thinking…

There seems to be a bit of cultural indecision on the value of quotations.

Quotations are  sometimes dismissed as the SparkNotes version of intellectualism. As Richard Kemph apparently said,

Quotations are nothing but inspiration for the uninspired.

Though I must admit I am not familiar with Kemph and the only information I can find about him is actually this very quote on a number of different quote sites (perhaps demonstrating one of the reasons why quotes are derided–they’re often taken out of context).

But on the other hand, we obviously love quotes. Looking for some? Try quoteland.comquotationspage.comquotegarden.combrainyquote.com, great-quotes.com, coolfunnyquotes.com, wisdomquotes.com, lovequotes4u.com … and it goes on.

They don’t have to be trite. Using quotes to enhance, highlight or punctuate our argument is pretty common and generally not looked down upon (even Harvard says it’s ok). In the roughly 50,000 years of modern human history, it’s likely the case that someone else has said what you’re trying to say in such a way that you just can’t top. Why bother?

And there are certainly enough people who do it–there’s probably at least one quote popping up on your Facebook “news feed” at this moment.

One of the powers of quotes (especially in the self-styled life context) is that they can be a tool of self-identification. We’re usually drawn to quotes that reflect who we are, or maybe wish to become. We can use that bit of wisdom captured in a good quote at times when we are struggling to follow through with our goals, like a mantra.

Title page of my diary. I thought this was Goethe, but it's actually not really...

And some quotes are just, well, Legendary.

How do you feel about quotes? Feel free to share some favorites!

6 responses to “To Quote or Not to Quote?

  1. If one has to google a quote, I would say don’t quote. But if that quote comes from experience capturing a memory or insight one has grown into and carries around with oneself, I would say “Quote those.” I have a “Citations” entry on my blog. Those are the ones I’ve memorized, remember, visit and consult from time to time. I had a teacher in 7th grade who made us learn 300 lines of poetry…a classic lesson that I hope young people still get in school. You’ve given me an idea for a future post…may link back here in the future. As always, thoughtful musings.

    • I agree! I think the most effective quotes (in writing, anyway) are ones that you already knew and therefore really understand–tends to flow much better. I actually edited out a little bit about how people often abuse quotes–kind of hiding behind them to project a certain image, or to just sound what they think is “better.” (but it was giving the whole post a negative feel…)

      I love you point about memorizing poetry. Oddly, most of the poetry memorizing I did in school was in foreign language classes–Spanish, Chinese… It was pretty awesome when I recited a Jose Marti poem to the Mexican guys I worked with in a restaurant in high school. They loved it :)

      Look forward to your future post(s)!

  2. “out you two pixies go…through the door or out da window!” – Sheldon Leonard as Nick the Bartender in “It’s a Wonderful Life”

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